BNSF Unveils Technology to Estimate Transit Times

FRAMINGHAM (08/22/2000) - Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. (BNSF) in Fort Worth, Texas, has launched a Web application to provide carload shippers with the estimated time it will take to move goods between cities served by the railway, or between points where BNSF interchanges with another railroad.

The reason: to make it easier and more convenient for customers to do business with BNSF, said railroad spokesman William Foust.

With the new application which was developed internally, Foust said shippers have direct access to carload transit times between the 7,000 stations that make up the BNSF rail system.

"So [shippers] can ask how long it will take to get a car from Los Angeles to [a point in] Texas and we can tell them," Foust said. "Say a customer has never shipped rail before, and has a product in Minot, N.D., that has to get to Wichita Falls,Texas. He can plug in the two cities and find out how many days it will take. Maybe he thought it took 14 days by railroad and now he finds out it only takes eight," and will decide to do business with BNSF, " Foust said.

Foust said this service complements BNSF's other Web-based services, such as generating and transmitting equipment requests for shipments that originate on BNSF; creating and transmitting bills of lading to BNSF; tracking and tracing loads; and viewing and paying bills.

According to Foust, this is the first time a railroad has offered shippers access to transit information via the Internet. Previously, BNSF customers and potential customers were only able to access this data by placing a telephone call to the customer service center.

"About a month before it rolled out, we surveyed the Web sites of our peer group in the industry and [determined no one offered this service]," he said.

Representatives of Union Pacific Corp. in Omaha, Canadian National Railway Co. in Montreal, and Canadian Pacific Ltd. in Calgary, Alberta, didn't return telephone calls requesting comment.

At Canadian National's Web site, customers were instructed to telephone their account managers to inquire about transit times.

Michael Bittner, an analyst at AMR Research Inc. in Boston, said BNSF may just well be the first railroad to allow customers to determine transit times over the Web.

"If this were trucking, I'd say no way, . . . and if it were ocean, I'd say probably maybe not," Bittner said. "But maybe this is the first railroad to [do it]."

At BNSF, Foust said, shippers can access transit times by logging onto BNSF's Web page, selecting "Quick Links to BNSF's Customer Tools," clicking on the "Select from List" option and selecting the "Carload Transit Schedule" to access the information. Foust said this new application complements the intermodal transit times that are already posted on the BNSF Web site.

Ting Piper, an analyst at International Data Corp. in Framingham, Mass., said BNSF is following an important trend in the transportation industry -- making it easier for customers to get necessary shipping information.

Piper said this trend has become especially prominent in the transportation sector because of the growth in e-commerce and the move toward more automated business processes.

"Definitely, sooner or later, others will be rolling [this service] out," she said.

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